Technology for humanity: preparing for the next phase

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ICT has been instrumental in combating the covid-19 pandemic and transforming society in the long term. But the key to progress is to lay the foundation for constant evolution, writes Chen Lei, President of Huawei for Southern Africa.

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, organizations across the globe began to take action. But as important as it was to react appropriately, it was also important to proactively prepare for the next phase.

At Huawei, we are aware of the massive effect of the pandemic, spatially on the communities most seriously affected. However, we are also aware that, in addition to protecting lives, we need to help lay the groundwork for the next phase of society's technological advance - the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I was inspired by a recent YouTube video of a young South African dancer, Hlumelo, who has been under confinement in his hometown of Gugulethu. A member of the Zama Dance School, Hlumelo did not let confinement retract him, and continued to practice his steps until he and his friends could perform together again.

Similarly, during Chinese confinement, members of the Shanghai ballet continued to practice - wearing face masks - for their next Swan Lake performance. They took precautions, but remained focused on the next phase of their development.

That reminds me of a Chinese poem that says “good sharpening gives a sharp edge to a sword. The intense cold adds a sharp fragrance to the plum blossom”. It means that preparation is essential for effectiveness and that difficulties can contribute to ultimate success. In fact, chance favors the prepared mind.

We understand that ICT has a big role to play in terms of keeping us all connected during confinement, quarantine and social isolation. But technology is also critical to Africa's economic recovery.

Now that we have spent several weeks with schools closed and companies stopped, the topic is turning to: how to reopen the economy. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the right way to do this is not to run back to the same working, focused and social environment that we had before.

When we reopen our businesses, communities and workplaces will have to continue to practice social detachment. We will continue to depend on high-speed connectivity to come together. In many cases, ICT networks are proving essential for the fight against the coronavirus, but also for the evolution of human society itself.

During the pandemic, as soon as Huawei was able to secure our people and our operations, we looked at how we could support our business partners on the African continent through our basic skills in the ICT sector. And we have been successful in helping some African organizations to distance themselves socially, thanks to our technology.

The video conferencing systems we provide in some African countries have allowed internal information to be shared and international experiences to be exchanged between epidemic prevention experts in China and Africa.

Our video conferencing systems have helped medical institutions to communicate more efficiently. We have also implemented an AI-based diagnostic solution in several medical institutions. TAC analyzes can now be completed in 2 minutes, 80% faster than before, which is critical in a race against time to save lives.

HUAWEI will continue to use its key information and communication capabilities to support epidemic control efforts in Africa.

When the dust settles and we start to reach the so-called “new normal”, we will have witnessed the immense potential of ICT to build social cohesion. A new business model for all sectors is being shaped, characterized by distance work, distance learning, distance healthcare, online shopping and monetary mobility. These business models cover transportation, security, finance, medicine, education and entertainment. And this new paradigm is driven by much higher data consumption, facilitated by the massive connectivity of 4G / 5G technology.

Governments are beginning to understand the need to prioritize ICT as a basic need.

As a recent White Paper noted, the Covid-19 pandemic is transforming response mechanisms for 5G healthcare to become digital, accurate and intelligent.

The epidemic drew the attention of policy makers to the importance of ICT in national development, which is likely to lead to the acceleration of the creation of national data centers, fiber optic networks and base communications stations.

This type of deployment of “large networks” also represents a historic opportunity for Africa to use ICT to reach and surpass other nations in terms of human development and quality of life for all its citizens.

We are witnessing the first signs of digital transformation not only in healthcare systems, but in entire economies and in society itself. ICT platforms are likely to form the basis of Africa's future economy. The key is to continue to improve and refine them, expanding their use right now, so that as soon as this period ends, we can recover more quickly.

As the old poem says, good sharpening gives the sword a sharp edge. Like Hlumelo and the Shanghai ballet dancers, we should spend this time perfecting our skills. And when the new dawn arrives - as it certainly will - let us find ourselves well prepared to enjoy the day!

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